Digital Modern Languages Seminar

Digital Modern Languages Seminar
25 June 2019, 6.00pm - 8.00pm
Bush House Lecture Theatre 2, King’s College London

Two sides of the same coin: Why the digital is blessing and curse for endangered languages

Mandana Seyfeddinipur (SOAS, University of London)

Abstract: Globalisation, urbanisation and climate change are affecting people’s lives all over the world drastically. Languages are falling silent at an alarming rate because people migrate to cities and give up their languages for more prestigious major language promising social and economic mobility. Linguists estimate that half of the world’s 7000 languages spoken today will be gone by the end of this century. And with these languages humanity’s knowledge about our own history, the local knowledges about flora and fauna and medicine, about social systems and cosmologies. 

At the same time the advent of digital technology has allowed linguists all over the world to record these disappearing languages and to preserve them in digital archives around the world. But while the internet held the promise of democratising access to knowledge, it is also the demise for linguistic diversity as the knowledge represented is heavily skewed towards the knowledge of the usual subjects and is only accessible in English or Chinese. The youth who are the hope for the survival of small languages wants to participate in the modern world and for that their small languages are not effective. Revitalisation and maintenance interventions try to utilise digital tools, games and phone apps but also their effects are limited. A digital multilingual and linguistically diverse world is the desire but the reality of it is complicated.  

Mandana Seyfeddinipur is Director of the SOAS World Languages Institute and Head of the Endangered Languages Archive (ELAR), a digital repository preserving and publishing multimedia collections of endangered languages.  

The seminar will be followed by a wine reception.

For more information about the series see: 

This series is part of the AHRC-funded Open World Research Initiative, and is supported by OWRI projects Cross-Language Dynamics: Reshaping Community and Language Acts and Worldmaking projects, and by the AHRC Leadership Fellow for Modern Languages (Janice Carruthers). The series is convened by Paul Spence (King’s College London) and Naomi Wells (Institute of Modern Languages Research).


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